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Paul Bogle was born in 1822 in Jamaica, possibly in Stony Gut, St Thomas. The community of Stony Gut was made up of small farmers and Bogle himself owned 500 acres of land. Bogle was friends with George William Gordon a big local landowner and politician who became instrumental in getting Paul his position as Baptist deacon. Paul Bogle grew up in a time of transition in Jamaica with slavery being abolished in 1834 but the power still remaining in the hands of the white population. Although Black Jamaicans could vote in reality the requirement to be able to read and write and the high fee for voting excluded most of them from being able to vote. In the elections of 1864 black Jamaicans out-numbered white by 32 to 1 but very few actually had the opportunity to vote. Jamaica suffered two years of drought in 1863-64 with the poorest farmers hit hard and rumours started to surface that the white land owners intended to bring back slavery.
On 7th October 1865 a black Jamaican was charged with and found guilty of trespassing on a long abandoned plantation. The local population protested about this and a group from the village of Stony Gut freed the man by force. Returning to their village Bogle discovered that the 27 men of the village now had warrants for arrest for a range of offences including rioting, and assaulting the police.
On October 11 1865 Paul Bogle lead 200-300 black men and women into the town of Morant Bay, in what became known as the Morant Bay Rebellion. Bogle’s group marched to the court house to protest about the arrest warrants but were met by a local militia who in panic opened fire and killed seven of the protesters. This sparked a riot during which another 18 people died. What started as a protest became a rebellion, with the town under the control of the rebels whose numbered quickly swelled to over 2000, with another two deaths in the following days.
The White planter population feared that the revolt would spread to the rest of Jamaica and the British Governor of Jamaica Edward Eyre sent troops to quickly put down the uprising. In reality the uprising had now calmed and was far from the armed insurrection perceived by the white population and the troops met little resistance but this did not prevent a brutal response with many deaths among the black population whether they had been involved in the uprising or not.
The statistics are grim - 439 black Jamaicans were killed by troops, 354 black Jamaicans were arrested and later executed and 600 punishments including floggings and prison sentences were carried out.
Paul Bogle was one of those arrested and later executed, while his friend and supporter George Gordon, who had very little to do with the uprising, was arrested in Kingston, tried under martial law and hanged on October 23rd. The rebellion and its effects had a huge impact on Jamaica and Britain at the time. In Britain it caused public debate with views being polarized into two camps - those supporting Governors Eyre’s response and those who believed that he should be tried for murder.
In August 1866 Eyre returned to the UK. Those opposed to his actions set up the Jamaica Committee; this included various liberal politicians including Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill. Eyre was in fact charged twice with murder but the charges never got to trial. In Jamaica what started as a small riot led to the Jamaican Assembly renouncing its charter and Jamaica becoming a crown colony.
Paul Bogle was later named a National Hero of Jamaica and his head appeared on the Jamaican $2 note from 1969 until it was phased out in 1989, and on the 10c coin since 1991.
The Morant Bay rebellion, Mary Dixon
The Killing Time: The Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica, Gad Heuman
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